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Living Fearlessly with Change

Exploring Ageing, Illness and Death through Buddhist Practice and Service

This course has now finished. The 2016 course information can be viewed below, for reference. If you are interested in participating in a similar course, please email your interest to

ARCHIVE: 2016 course information below

A crucial point on the Buddha’s path to awakening was his realisation that all beings age, experience illness and ultimately die.  Rather than be overwhelmed by these realisations he chose to turn towards them, using them as a call to wake up to the reality of life, with its ever-changing nature.

Just as the Buddha moved beyond his everyday life to deepen his experiences and understanding, so too the offering of service provides us with the opportunity for practice to move from the cushion, out into the world of relationship and interdependence.

This programme follows the Buddha’s lead and provides the opportunity to explore these themes and wake up to our lives just as they are in each moment. Through service and supported practice, we will deepen our understanding of the way we respond and react to our experience of dukkha (suffering) as it arises for ourselves and others, cultivating wise and compassionate ways of being with our ever-changing experience.

This is a special opportunity to deepen in practice with the support of teachers and sangha (Buddhist community), and offer service.

The course consists of:

  • Three residential retreats at Bala Brook Retreat Centre on beautiful Dartmoor.
  • Personal practice.
  • A commitment to offering service for at least 2 hours a week within the areas of ageing, illness or end-of-life care (whether it be through your current professional role, volunteering or caring for a relative or friend).
  • Teacher mentoring.
  • Regular contact with fellow participants and deepening sense of sangha (Buddhist community).
  • Regular material from the teachers consisting of reflections/contemplations, guided meditations and talks.
  • Monthly live video conferencing with teachers and participants, with discussion, question and answer.

Teachers: Jean Wilkins and Zohar Lavie 

Jean Wilkins

Photo of Teacher.Jean Wilkins began her Dharma practice in 1980 with teachers from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, over the intervening years she has also studied with teachers from Gaia House. Between 2003 and 2009 she lived and worked at Upaya Zen Centre, a student of Roshi Joan Halifax. She worked with Roshi establishing an end of life care support program both within the centre and in the community of Santa Fe.

During those years she was the co-ordinator of the professional end of life care training programme for health care professionals; Compassionate End of Life Care, as well as being a member of the teaching team. For many years Jean offered mindfulness practice in her work in the field of Mental Health. Jean offers mindfulness programs at a local hospice in Devon for patients/carers, staff and those living with bereavement.

Zohar Lavie

Photo of Teacher.Zohar Lavie has been practising meditation since 1995. Led by her interest to combine service with Dharma practice she co-founded SanghaSeva in 2004, and offers retreats that bring together meditation and positive action in the world. Since 2006 she has been teaching on silent retreats and Dharma gatherings in India, Europe and Israel.

Zohar has worked with the elderly and physically impaired in the UK since 2003 and spends a month a year volunteering in a leprosy community in India. She has been teaching annually on Gaia House’s Living with Illness and Loss retreat.

Programme Elements.
Please ensure that you read all of the course information below before booking.

Course themes

  • The course is an inquiry process into the groundless, uncertain nature of our experience using the areas of ageing, illness and death. We will explore the use of intention and motivation, guidelines for ethical living, Bodhicitta and the Six Perfections – generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration and wisdom. The process will be supported with meditations using the breath and inquiry as the focus, the four Brahma Viharas, (equanimity, kindness, compassion, and empathetic joy), and the practice of Tonglen meditation (Giving and Receiving).

Residential Retreats

3 Residential Retreats at Bala Brook Retreat Centre take place on the following dates:

  • 15th to 20th July 2016
  • 9th to 11th December 2016
  • 19th to 24th May 2017

Bala Brook is a retreat centre in a most beautiful part of Dartmoor. Surrounded by wild flower meadows, fields and moorland, and with a gentle brook flowing through the grounds, this is a nourishing space to spend time. As Bala Brook owns the land immediately adjacent to the centre, there is plenty of space for walking meditation and being outdoors.

Rooms will be shared with one or two others, and there are a limited number of single rooms which will be allocated to those with medical conditions or according to age.

Accessibility: This venue has a limited number of rooms available for wheel-chair users.

More about accommodation.


All participants are asked to commit to offering service for at least 2 hours a week in support of those who are experiencing ageing, illness or are approaching end of life (whether it be through your current professional  role, volunteering, or caring for a relative or friend). Applicants not already offering service need to explore opportunities for engaging in voluntary work. About volunteering.

Teacher mentoring & video meetings

  • Teacher Mentoring

Participants will have at least one personal interview with a teacher on each residential retreat, as well as one personal interview with a teacher in each half of the programme (between the retreats). This will be on the telephone, Skype, or in person if possible.

Additionally each participant will have personal email contact with a teacher once a fortnight through the programme.

The personal, telephone and email interviews are offered to support each participants in their individual process and practice.

Participants will be sent weekly emails with reflections and guided meditations. Once a month a talk will be made available for participants to listen to and reflect on.

  • Live Video Conference

This will take place once a month online with the teachers and other participants. It will be an opportunity for discussion and Q&A, and will be recorded.

  • Group Meetings

All participants will have a video meeting with fellow participants twice a month in small groups to reflect on their practice and experience. Guidelines will be provided for taking part in this meeting.

Programme Costs

The total cost of participating in the programme is £760 plus Dana (a voluntary offering).
A payment plan and financial help is available. (Please see below.)

Deposit & payment plan

We ask for an initial non-refundable deposit payment of £200 to secure your place on the programme.
Following this, we are offering a payment plan to help spread the cost.

The payment plan is outlined below:

Minimum total to be paid By
£200 Deposit on booking
£400 1 May 2016
£500 1 July 2016
£600 1 September 2016
£760 1 December 2016

It is possible for participants to make a monthly payment if it is preferable, and agree a schedule of payment that meets the minimum payments, above. The suggested amount would be £50 per month, although we can discuss options.

Please note that bookings made from 1st May 2016 onwards will require the ‘minimum payment’ amount (£400 or £500 depending on the date) as a deposit.


To avoid the need for cancellation, please ensure you are in a position to commit to the full programme before booking your place.

The minimum payment amounts above constitute non-refundable payments. If you have paid more than the minimum payment amount at a given date, the difference will be refunded.

The reason that we ask for 70% of the fees to be paid by the start of the programme is that once the course has commenced, we are no longer able to offer places. This is because it is not possible to join the programme after the start date, so all places need to be allocated before the programme commences. We do appreciate your understanding with this.

More information about cancellation.

Financial support

There are funds available to support people financially, and payment plans can be worked out with people accessing financial support to ensure that the payments are affordable. Please contact Rachel Davies for details by emailing

Dana donations

Following the lineage of Buddhist teachings being offered freely, this course is also offered in this spirit of generosity (Dana), and the teachers will receive only a small financial contribution from Gaia House during the 10-month course. Please bear in mind that the rate you pay covers the basic running of the course only. You will be invited to support the teachers financially by offering Dana at the end of each of the residential retreats and also at the mid-points between the retreats. We ask you to keep this voluntary cost in mind as you consider the financial requirements for the course. More information about Dana.

Terms and Conditions

Criteria for Engaging with the Programme

*Please note that the 2016 course is currently full. However, if you are interested in participating we encourage you to complete an application as normal and we can add you to the waiting list, in case any places become available.*

Applicants need to have:

  • Experience of engaging with a personal meditation practice over the last year.
  • Attended one meditation retreat in the Buddhist tradition over the last 5 years.
  • You are working, either in a paid or voluntary capacity, or as a carer for a family member or friend, in one of the areas of ageing, illness and death, for at least 2 hours a week.
    • If you are not offering this service at present, you are able to commit to 2 hours of voluntary work each week in one of these areas for the duration of the program.
    • Those not already offering service need to begin to explore opportunities for voluntary work, as this can take several months to organise.
  • Access to a computer and the internet.
    • Participants need reasonable internet access due to the online aspects of this course.
    • Full information and instructions will be given on getting set up for video conferences and online group meetings.

Applicants need to be committed to:

  • Developing a regular meditation practice of at least 15 minutes a day (or more) at least 4 times a week.
  • Spending between 1 – 2.5 hours a week engaged in: reflecting on different aspects of a variety of themes, listening to Dharma talks (Buddhist teachings), being part of an online discussion group, being available on a Sunday, late afternoon, once a month for a live video Q and A and discussion.
  • Attending 3 residential retreats over a period of 10 months.

If you have any reservations about whether you have the experience needed to engage with this programme please contact us to discuss this.

Please be aware that participants are asked to commit to the entire course and that people will not be able to join the course once it has begun.

The Application Process

You will be asked to fill in an application form, and applicants can expect to receive a response within 2 weeks of application. If you are accepted on the course, you will be asked to pay a deposit to secure your place. Having paid a deposit, you will have the option to either agree to a payment plan, or to pay the balance in full. Please see information above about deposits, payments and cancellation for further information.


If you have any questions or concerns about applying for, or participating in this programme, please don’t hesitate to contact us. It is our intention to make this course as accessible as possible, and to serve the wider community. Please contact Rachel Davies on or telephone 01626 335256.